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Hitchcock has Blues wary of improving Hurricanes

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

HURRICANES (13-24-4) at BLUES (25-13-3)

TV: FS-CR, FS-MW

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock admits he's a teacher when it comes to the NHL and the players that represent it.

But for the St. Louis Blues veteran coach, it's natural to be a fan Saturday when the NHL announces at 6 p.m. ET the remainder of the lineup for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, which will be played Jan. 25 in Columbus.

With right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (22 goals, 21 assists) leading the Blues with 43 points in 41 games, and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk tied for the lead among NHL defensemen with 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists), they seem to be logical choices for selection.

"To be honest with you, I've learned that … first of all, it's a great event, but selfishly, we've had a number of players who have had all-star years," Hitchcock said. "I know the way it works. You've got 30 teams; everybody's got to be representatives. There's always people that are legitimately disappointed. That's the only thing that bothers me. There's always players that richly deserve to go who don't get a chance because we're representing all the teams. I'm hopeful the guys I think deserve to go get a chance."

No Blues were voted in by fan selection. Those picks went to five Chicago Blackhawks (forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and goalie Corey Crawford) and Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons.

The Blues (25-13-3) will host the Carolina Hurricanes (13-24-4) on Saturday, and on paper, the Blues have a decided edge in points (53-30). But after seeing the Hurricanes play the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Hitchcock is making his players aware these are not the same Hurricanes who labored through the couple months or so decimated with injuries.

"Well, which team, the one that was banged up or the one that's on the ice now," Hitchcock said when asked about Carolina. "The one now's a good team. There's implementation of 90 percent Detroit [Red Wings] here, which [Hurricanes coach Bill Peters] was with them a long time. You can see all the principles that the Red Wings have sitting there in Carolina. Very difficult when top players are out to manage the game, manage minutes, stay afloat. The team that's played the last couple games, especially the game that they played in Nashville's very impressive. I'm sure Bill would have liked to have this lineup from Day One. It's unfortunate, but this is a lineup you can win with and I think he knows that."

Carolina center Jordan Staal, who has played in five games after returning from a broken right leg, said things are headed in a positive way.

"It's been difficult," Staal said. "Every team goes through it at times. We're not the only ones. But it's nice to have the team back for the most part, fully healthy and feeling good. As of late, we've played some pretty good hockey. We've done a lot of good things. I think we're starting to head in the right direction with the way we want to play."

Peters, in his first season, is finally getting a chance to see a full lineup.

"It's made a big difference," Peters said. "Getting Jordan back in has allowed us to do some different things obviously. We have Jordan and Eric [Staal] playing together, and that's a real good line. Whether it's [Elias] Lindholm or [Jiri] Tlusty, whoever's on the right side, but it's freed Eric up to be more of a power forward. He's responded offensively.

"We've got so much work to do. We've got a lot of room for improvement, and we know that. It's all about us and how we play. We obviously know what the other team's going to do. We have to get out team game in order at a high level and have it at a high level consistently. We haven't done that we well as we would have liked. We've just got to focus on our own game right now."

Here are the projected lineups:

HURRICANES

Eric Staal - Jordan Staal - Elias Lindholm

Nathan Gerbe - Victor Rask - Jiri Tlusty

Jeff Skinner - Riley Nash - Alexander Semin

Brad Malone - Jay McClement - Patrick Dwyer

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk

Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore

Tim Gleason - Ryan Murphy

Cam Ward

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: John-Michael Liles, Andrej Nestrasil

Injured: none

BLUES

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Chris Butler

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Martin Brodeur, Joakim Lindstrom, Ian Cole

Status report: Bellemore will replace Liles in the lineup Saturday. Liles played the past game after missing five games because of illness. "When you've missed a lot of games and you come in and try to catch up and play and you're not quite ready to play, it shows," Peters said. "I don't think John-Michael's quite ready. It's a combination of [Bellemore's] been playing a lot and he's been playing well and John-Michael played the other night and wasn't quite ready to play." … The Blues will stick with the same lineup they've used the past three games, all victories.

Who's hot: The Steen-Backes-Oshie line has 35 points in the past seven games. Oshie is on a career-best seven-game point streak (six goals, seven assists) and Steen has a five-game point streak (three goals, eight assists). ... Schwartz has two goals and four assists in three games since returning from a broken foot.

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